September/October 2000


(October 8) - Israel is under attack. At first this reality was too bizarre for many Israelis to comprehend, coming at a time when the country has made almost unimaginable strides toward the Palestinians. Now there is no doubt that Israel's generosity has been interpreted by the Arab world as weakness.

Both peace and security now depend on Israel proving, not that it can, but that it will defend itself, and withstand whatever pressures may be incurred by doing so.

As serious as events of the past week were, yesterday witnessed a further Arab escalation: Hizbullah attacked Israeli positions with missiles and kidnapped three soldiers, and a Palestinian mob ransacked Joseph's Tomb, just hours after it was handed over to Palestinian control. Both were acts of naked aggression and utter betrayals of solemn agreements. Both challenge the international community to come to Israel's defense and see through the Orwellian attempt to paint the most conciliatory Israeli government in history as an aggressor.

Israel made clear after its United Nations-certified total withdrawal from Lebanon that the proxy war against us was over. In the future, any attack against Israel would be the responsibility of the governments of Lebanon and Syria, which can control our common border should they wish to.

Israel must now, unfortunately, demonstrate that Lebanon and Syria will pay a price for allowing attacks to be launched from Lebanese territory. The excuse that Hizbullah is an independent organization will not wash; it operates in Lebanon freely and its most recent attacks against Israel have been met with acceptance bordering on glee.

On the Palestinian front, it is difficult to understand the timing of the middle-of-the-night Israeli evacuation of Joseph's Tomb, just after an Israeli border policeman lost his life in its defense. According to top Israeli officials, Israel was assured that tomb would not be harmed if it were handed over to the Palestinians. Before the end of the day, the site had been desecrated, dismantled, and set ablaze.

As Shimon Peres has emphatically pointed out, the instant and brutal destruction of a Jewish holy place should obliterate Yasser Arafat's bid for exclusive control of the place holiest to the Jewish people, the Temple Mount. Yesterday's atrocity recalls the experience of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City when it fell to Jordan in 1948, and the ransacking of dozens of ancient synagogues that ensued. Fifty years later, Arafat has demonstrated that the Arab attitude toward custodianship of Jewish holy places has not changed.

Last night Prime Minister Ehud Barak gave Arafat 48 hours to end the attack against Israel or he would conclude that Israel has "no partner" in the peace process. Once again, Israel is taking a great risk by signalling that for two days it will not fully respond to further attacks. This risk, like the risks taken starting at Oslo through to Camp David, seeks to demonstrate that Israel has, as Barak has said, "left no stone unturned" in pursuit of peace.

Throughout this process, the United States has made one pledge to Israel: to work to reduce the risks Israel takes for peace. At this time of utmost trial, however, the United States, despite the public pleas of Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, continues to refuse to label the violence as an attack against Israel and hold Arafat responsible.

Israel has done what it can and more to test the theory that maximum generosity will bring peace. Whether or not the US has deemed that theory to have failed, now is the time for America to fulfill its end of the bargain and unequivocally come to Israel's moral defense. Anything less will invite the attack to continue and intensify, and force Israel to take more drastic action in self-defense.

© Jerusalem Post 2000

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